The work of Barb Stewart can be seen all around Texoma. You do not have to travel too far to find an art event that Stewart has a connection to.
She often shows in the 2nd Floor Gallery at Grayson College, the Goddard juried exhibit in Ardmore, Oklahoma, the Great Plains art show in Durant, Oklahoma, Odd Ball Art Society in Denison and a traveling art exhibit with the Irving Arts Center Galleries and Sculpture Garden.
This summer she won an award at the Magnolia Festival in Durant, Oklahoma.
Stewart is a member of the Denison Arts Council, the Sunday Morning Art and Coffee Club and the Texoma Arts Association.
“I cannot recall a time that I didn’t make art,” she says in an email interview. “I enjoyed our grade school program which I believe was called the ‘Picture Lady’ program. Once a week a person would come in and explain a famous work of art.”
In the fourth grade, she remembers listening to the Beatles and spending a lot of time drawing and listening to music. In the eighth grade, she remembers hearing a presentation from someone at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and she was hooked.
“I’ve always been inspired by the Impressionists and Post Impressionists,” her email explains. “Once again going back to the Picture Lady, I remember pieces such as Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ and ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte’ by Georges Seurat when I was a child. As a teen I was inspired by Peter Max.”
Stewart went on to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in ceramics and textile design from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
“I have always been inspired by the ceramics of Paul Gauguin because he worked in a variety of mediums,” she says of the artists who have inspired her. “I have always loved the assemblages of Joseph Cornell. Always a fan of Alexander Calder, I was able to see him dedicate ‘Flamingo’ during the 70s in Chicago. I love the history of art, particularly Chinese ceramics and the art of Egypt.”
Now, Stewart draws her inspiration from large scale art by Yayoi Kusama and large scale digital photography by Jeff Wall.
“For me, my definition of art is creating something from of an abstract idea or theme that is original unto itself,” she says of how any connection an individual has with something can result in the creation of art. “I don’t paint from photos or create something that has already been created. Many people do that, but it’s just not my style. I go through phases as well as experiment with many mediums. They roll into each other at some point.”
And, for the most part, Stewart detaches herself from any planned outcome so the finished piece is spontaneous.
“I love collecting objects and doing found object art,” she explains the process. “Random pieces coming together in a work of art like pieces of a puzzle. I rarely do any kind of preplanning. There is a lot of synchronicity in my work. Things just fit and fall into place.”
Aside from painting, Stewart is also a gourd artist. She works with a group in Dallas that meets once a month. She also works with the Dallas Arboretum gift shop.
“Being creative has been the greatest gift I could ever have,” she talks about how the creative process encourages her. “My natural mother passed away when I was 3 months old from complications or rheumatic fever so I never really knew her. I was adopted by my natural mother’s brother and his wife.”
Art and music were a healer to help cope with the loss. It also helped her understand her emotions.
“Later in life I found out that my natural father (also an introvert) is a former sculptor and silversmith,” she tells about how her connection to art later made sense. “I play with balance, structure and the ‘fit’ of the color within the particular piece I’m working on. I manipulate the work to the point where the piece feels ‘whole.’”
And, one thing that is unique about Stewart’s work is that you will rarely find red in her pieces.
“My work is generally composite art that combines different images and objects,” she explains. “There are familiar and unfamiliar textures and objects within its boundaries. They are put together in a way that structurally appeals to me. The unified whole is better than the object itself. I often wood burn or use metal found objects or glass.”
She often listens to music and the title of the piece and the music she was listening to as she worked become related.
“I would say attend a few artist run workshops or lectures,” she says to encourage others to find their artistic outlet and use it to find happiness. “Visit an art museum, gallery, festival or store that has a variety of art, and see what intrigues you. When you try it for yourself, go in with the attitude that there are no mistakes. Find and value ‘your tribe.’ Have each other’s back for the sake of art.”